* Court rules parliament should serve full term
* Constitution set August date for polls
* Government wanted to move election date to December
* Election can only be held earlier if coalition collapses
By James Macharia
NAIROBI, Jan 13 Kenya's High Court ruled
on Friday that the next presidential and parliamentary elections
should be held in March 2013 and not this August, unless the
ruling coalition collapsed, forcing an earlier poll.
The east African country's next election will come under
intense scrutiny because it will be the first under a new
constitution, and the first since the 2007 poll that gave rise
to fighting in which more than 1,220 people were killed.
The government had proposed amending the constitution to
delay the vote to December because of logistical problems,
prompting petitioners to ask the High Court for a ruling.
The court ruled that the current parliament should serve its
full five-year term, which ends on Jan. 14, 2013, and that the
elections should be held 60 days later. The ruling will
disappoint many Kenyans who want to vote out their legislators
The court also ruled that the elections could be held this
year only if the ruling coalition between President Mwai Kibaki
and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, created to end the violence
after the 2007 election, were to collapse for any reason.
The electoral commission would then set a poll date within
60 days of the breakdown.
"We are conscious that our findings may be unpopular with a
section of Kenyans who have preconceived notions about the
elections," said Justice Isaac Lenaola, one of three judges who
made the ruling. "But we hasten to remind Kenyans that our
undertaking is not to ... suit popular opinion."
Many Kenyans are eager to vote out some legislators because
they consider them lazy, corrupt and greedy, and say the
lawmakers, among the best-paid in the world, are a privileged
group who do little to help develop the country.
Kenyan legislators voted to quadruple their salaries in 2003
as their first order of business after the election, and angered
the public again during the current term by refusing to pay tax.
Analysts predicted controversy over the high court ruling.
"This will go back to court for further interpretation. I
see it going through the court of appeal. It could end up in the
supreme court," political commentator Kwamchetsi Makokha said.
Odinga said he would consult Kibaki and try to end any
concern the court's ruling might create.
"I will consult with President Kibaki and after our
deliberation we shall give an appropriate statement. I will
consult Kibaki as we don't want to keep the country in much
suspense," Odinga told independent television station NTV.
Parliamentarians had been divided about the proposal to put
off the elections to December from August, and opinion polls
showed many Kenyans preferred an August election.
There are several potential contenders for the presidency,
and some politicians are already mobilising party members to
vote in the elections, in which they will also choose senators,
county governors and civic officials.
"I totally disagree with the court's ruling," Martha Karua,
a member of parliament who plans to run for the presidency, said
on her Twitter account.
"Term of office must include the election period and that's
the interpretation world over," said Karua, known as the Iron
Lady for tackling allcomers in a male-dominated political field.
The constitution, endorsed by a referendum in 2010, had set
Aug. 14 for the presidential and parliamentary elections.
An opinion poll in October showed 53 percent of Kenyans
wanted an August election and 38 percent a December one.
Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo told Reuters that if there
were no appeals against the court ruling, he would withdraw a
bill containing amendments fixing the elections for December.
"I am trained to respect court findings. I will withdraw the
date amendment if there are no appeals," Kilonzo told Reuters.
Although Kibaki's term runs to the end of December 2012, he
will stay in power until a new leader is elected, Kilonzo said.
Kibaki is barred by the constitution from seeking a third term.
The electoral commission had also backed a December poll,
saying it would not have time to ensure a fair electoral process
if polls were held in August.
"It is unlikely that Kibaki will want the coalition to come
to an end, so that he can stay in power longer," said Makokha.
"This ruling has handed power to Odinga, who can trigger a
collapse of the coalition and force the declaration of an early
election if it serves his interests."
Odinga leads in opinion polls in the race to replace Kibaki.
His main rivals are Finance Minister and Deputy Prime
Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Kenya's founding father Jomo
Kenyatta, and former higher education minister William Ruto.
Both face International Criminal Court charges over the 2007